Tag Archives: equality

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil


This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted


On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

Review: Beyoncé by Beyoncé

As opposed to her pop star colleagues, Beyoncé dropped an album unannounced, out of nowhere to the delight of her fans. It was perhaps an incredible PR move, as the surprise has caused more uproar than any other album this year.

It’s early days, but the initial response to the album has been generally positive. On iTunes for $15,99, the album has 14 profound tracks that really dig into Beyoncé’s experiences as a woman and even as a feminist.

Continue reading.

Forget tradition, Doctor Who needs a female star

The word ‘tradition’ brings about warm feelings. It represents the constant factors in life, things that don’t change and are always there for some comfort and security. But lately the word hasn’t been employed in that way; mostly, in fact, it has been used to defend prejudice, to argue against progress and change…

Read the rest here.

Dear Mr Cameron, you’re right but do you really mean it?


Behind every successful institution, there are more men in senior positions than women. Pointing that out is redundant of course, because this fact has been obvious for decades. It has also been slowly and steadily improving as well. But redundant as this is, Prime Minister David Cameron has only taken his whole life to realize and to point out to the world that great institutions, companies and governments could be even greater if there were more women in charge.

“My wife likes to say that if you don’t have women in the top places, you are not just missing out on 50% of the talent, you are missing out on a lot more than 50% of the talent – and I think she probably has a point.”

Yes, Mr Prime Minister, your wife is ‘probably’ right, I guess.

Out of 257 Conservative members of parliament, only 47 are female, whilst out of a total of 650 in the whole parliament, only 144 are female. It’s certainly progressive that a white privileged male is saying that women deserve more, but we have known this for years. Thanks for the info, eh?

In 2010 we celebrated the fact that the UK elected the greatest number of women into Parliament ever. The number of female Tory MPs actually doubled, as before they only had a ridiculous 19 female MPs in the House. This ‘greatest’ number ever is still floored by the number of males in a blunt comparison, especially when issues on the table affect the women all over the UK, and women in other countries that look to the UK for an example of government.

Abortion. Riots that were apparently caused by single mothers who can’t raise their children right. Youth unemployment where numbers of women unemployed is much greater than men. And many other issues that don’t concern women directly but that need to have female representatives to debate and vote on them, so that women in the UK can be truly heard.

Cameron’s acknowledgement of this inequality is commendable, and maybe people will take notice of it. But then again, let’s not forget that after 144 women were voted into Parliament in 2010, the Tories were so at loss as to how to tell them apart that they started calling all of them Caroline. Collectively, they demeaned a whole gender that had fought as hard, if not harder, as them to get where they were.

It’s no wonder Labour is beating the Tories when it comes to the women’s vote by seven whole points.

Wait – could there be second intentions in the Prime Minister’s words in favour of women in power? Political advisers have said a Tory win could depend on female votes. Though I would like to believe that Cameron really means it and wants more women in the House, I am struggling to believe his random spur of feminism.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he did admit to his party’s lack of diversity.

“We have around 50 now. We have made a big change, but it is only 50 out of 300, so it’s not nearly enough, so we need to do more,” he added.

He also admitted he did not appoint enough women to his cabinet, where of the 22 people appointed on four of them are women. But this reshuffle wasn’t even that long ago – it was last September. So why didn’t he make amends to put more women in power five months ago? Has this been a recent realization of his or is it a tactic to gain women’s votes? Inequality of women in power positions isn’t anything new, has he finally been enlightened? It took him long enough. And so what, should we give him a prize for it?

Maybe you mean it, Prime Minister. Maybe you are actually recognizing your party’s mistakes, mistakes that have transcended time and generations. Maybe the Tory party won’t be so very sexist because now you need women to win your seats. But answer me this, Prime Minister – what will happen once you get your votes and you don’t need women any more?

Photo by bisgovuk / Flickr Creative Commons License.

Real Women Who Transform Meet Up

2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and I at the end of the event.

Click below to read my Storify coverage of the meet up that took place today in Rio de Janeiro, featuring Leymah Gbowee, Tony Porter and Graca Foster.

[View the story “Mulheres Reais Que Transformam” on Storify]

And here is a video of the wonderful Leymah speaking about perception:

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Photo by Nicole Froio.